Man sentenced to life in prison for murdering Waterford farmer

Alison O'Riordan

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Alison O'Riordan

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Man sentenced to life in prison for murdering Waterford farmer

The late Paddy Lyons (left) of County Waterford and Ross Outram from County Tipperary

Ross Outram has been jailed for life after a jury today (Friday) found him guilty of murdering 90-year-old retired farmer Paddy Lyons, who was found beaten to death in his own home.

The panel of eight men and four women rejected the 28-year-old's claim that he repeatedly struck Mr Lyons in "self-defence" after the pensioner, who suffered from osteoporosis and only had the use of one arm, "attacked" him with a stick. 

The trial heard that the farmer's body was discovered slumped in his armchair at his home. Blood was smeared down his face and his penis was exposed through his underpants. Pathologist Dr Margaret Bolster told the trial that Mr Lyons suffered multiple blows to his head and neck from a blunt weapon and had fractures of his hip joint, jawbone and ribs.

Paddy Lyons lived alone on his farm and had "trusted everyone", the court heard, but became the victim of what was described as a "truly shocking and outrageous" attack by Outram, who has previous convictions for burglary and assault. 

It was the State's case that Outram had carried out "a vicious and sustained attack on a defenceless old man" with a non-functioning arm and the defendant's claim of self-defence did "not bear thinking about”. 

Outram of Ferryland, Waterford Road, Clonmel in Co Tipperary, had pleaded not guilty to murdering Mr Lyons at Loughleagh, Ballysaggart, Lismore, Co Waterford, at a time unknown between February 23 and 26, 2017.

Before sentencing today, a victim impact statement was read to the Central Criminal Court by the prosecution on behalf of Paddy Lyons' home help in Lismore, Mary Fennessy. 

Ms Fennessy said she knew Mr Lyons for over 20 years and "if anyone deserved a place in heaven it's Paddy". "He was happy with simple things, had a great love for life and loved meeting people. He was a well known, well respected man of our community and he is greatly missed," she said.

Ms Fennessy explained that Mr Lyons was the oldest man in their village and he was a "very friendly and trusting man".

"He didn't drive a car but everyone in the village knew him and would give him a lift in and out of Lismore. Everyone liked him," she said. 

"He liked a simple life and loved sitting by the fire and listening to the radio. He loved having visitors and reminiscing about times long ago. He was a very religious man and never missed mass no matter how bad the weather was," she said.

"I loved going down to visit Paddy every day. He was very grateful for any job you'd do for him. I'd bring him down dinner and bring in timber for the fire. He didn't have running water or any luxuries that you'd have in a modern house but he was always happy and content with what he had," she said. 

"One of the days when I saw Paddy at his happiest was when the priest said mass in Paddy's home, what we call 'stations'. He was king of the castle that day. Paddy said 'twas a great day altogether' and talked about it for months afterwards," she concluded. 

The jury took three hours and 29 minutes to come to their unanimous guilty verdict. Mr Justice Paul Coffey thanked the jury for the conscientious manner in which they had dealt with this long and difficult case. "The care you have given to the case has been exemplary," he said before exempting them from jury service for a period of 15 years.

Defence counsel Michael O'Higgins SC told the court that his client wanted to apologise for having killed Mr Lyons and he was remorseful for his actions. 

The court heard that Outram has 25 previous convictions which include burglary, theft, possession of stolen property and assault causing harm.

Mr Justice Coffey then sentenced Outram to the mandatory term of life imprisonment for murder. The sentence was backdated to when he went into custody on February 27, 2017. 

Addressing Outram, Mr Justice Coffey said his conduct was "a truly shocking and outrageous fatal attack on a defenceless 90-year-old man in his own home." 

During their deliberations yesterday (Thurs), the jury had asked to re-hear evidence from two pathologists and to see a hoodie that belonged to Outram and a grey hat that belonged to Mr Lyons. 

There was a further inquiry from the jury yesterday (Thurs) as to whether Mr Lyons' grey hat had blood on it. "The answer is no, no blood was found on that," replied Mr Justice Coffey.

Defence counsel, Michael O'Higgins SC, outlined in his closing speech that Outram told gardai in his interviews on two occasions that Mr Lyons was alive when he left the house because he [the deceased] had put on a grey hat. “That’s an unusual memory fragment and why would Mr Outram invent that detail?” emphasised the barrister, adding that a garda had given evidence that he found a grey hat in the vicinity of Mr Lyons' fireplace.

However, the judge told the jury this morning (Fri) that he wanted to address them in relation to "the issue of blood on the hat". "There is in fact no evidence that the hat was examined for blood and therefore no evidence that there is no blood on the hat. If your examination of the hat raises a possibility that there is blood on it then no inference should be drawn against the accused," outlined the judge. 

The hat was then given to the jury for them to examine in their jury room. 

Forensic scientist John Hoade gave evidence in the trial that he examined a grey hoodie belonging to Outram and found blood on the right sleeve and hood which matched Mr Lyons' DNA profile. Garda Eugene O'Neill testified that he went to Outram's house at Ferryland on February 27 and searched the back bedroom, where he seized a grey hoodie. 

Outram told gardai in interviews that he had “fought back” after Mr Lyons hit him with a walking stick and shovel, and that he had taken up to 100 Xanax that day. However, a pharmaceutical expert told the jury that there was "no proof" that Outram had taken Xanax.

The three-week trial heard medical evidence that Mr Lyons suffered a “stiffness or fusion” of his right shoulder during childbirth and could only keep it in one position.

Mr O'Higgins argued in his closing speech that Outram had acted in self-defence and that he could not be made liable for "a fall" which saw Mr Lyons break his hip if it was unconnected to the original injuries inflicted on him by the defendant

However, prosecution counsel John O'Kelly SC said in his closing speech that it “flew in the face of all common sense” to suggest that Mr Lyons’ hip injury could have occurred after he was subjected to the attack or could be seen as something entirely independent. “There is no evidence to show that it could have happened later or was entirely separate and independent,” he outlined.

Furthermore, Mr O'Kelly submitted that no one knew how much truth "if any" was in Outram’s version of events as he had lied consistently in his first six garda interviews. 

In charging the jury, Mr Justice Coffey said that in order to convict Outram of murder they must be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that Mr Lyons’ fall and the fracture of his hip was either directly caused by the multiple blows inflicted on him or it was reasonably foreseeable that it was a natural consequence of these blows.

If the jury found that Mr Lyons fell on the ground or collapsed in the course of being repeatedly beaten by his attacker, the judge said they could find that causation had been established. 

EVIDENCE HEARD: 

At the outset of the trial Mary Fennessy, Paddy Lyons’ home help, testified that she would call to his home on a daily basis and said he was in “great form” on the afternoon of February 24. “The way Paddy lived he trusted everyone,” she commented, adding that Mr Lyons was “very lively” for his age and had no aches or pains.

Kathleen Kiely gave evidence that she sold second-hand clothes around the country and would call to Mr Lyons’ home in Ballysaggart around four times a year.  The witness went to Mr Lyons’ house around 4pm on February 25 and said she found it unusual that there was no lock or bolt on the gate as it was normally locked. As she stepped inside his house, Ms Kiely said she saw that Mr Lyons was sitting in his chair and that he did not move or respond when she called his name.

He looked very swollen and she thought he was unconscious, she said, not realising at the time that he was already dead. The witness said she informed a couple who lived in a nearby bungalow what she had observed.

Sandra Walsh, a family friend of Outram’s, said the defendant rang her on February 26 and asked her had she seen “about the man” on the news. Outram told her that he had hit this man because he would not give him money, she said. She asked him if this was the man that had died in Waterford and he confirmed that it was. Ms Walsh said she rang a Sergeant stationed in Clonmel that evening to report what Outram had told her and he was arrested the following day.

Under cross-examination by Michael O’Higgins SC, defending, Ms Walsh agreed that Outram was “effectively reared” by his grandmother, who had been very close friends with Mr Lyons.

Paramedic David Galvin said he got a call from ambulance control in connection with a man who had suffered a cardiac arrest in Ballysaggart on February 25. Mr Galvin said he had to use his torch as there were no lights on in the man’s house. The elderly man was slumped in a chair with no pulse and there was blood on his scalp, he said.

Detective Garda Alan Curry testified that he had examined the gateway at Mr Lyons' house, where he found a broken lock which was lying on the ground. The witness said he also recovered a number of pieces of broken glass at the other side of the gateway, which “fitted perfectly” into the headlamp of Outram's Volkswagen Passat car. Outram’s car had crashed into Mr Lyons’ gate and the pressure from the collision had “popped” the lock, the court heard.

Outram told gardai in his interviews that he “figured” if he went to Ballysaggart and took Mr Lyons’ money, then his alcoholic mother would no longer be able to get money off him [the deceased] for drink.

“I knew that man [Mr Lyons] a long time, my grandmother use to look after him. I was trying to do good as my mother kept wrecking my head, she keeps getting worse,” he said. 

Outram told gardai that he had taken 100 Xanax when he knocked on Mr Lyons’ door on the night of February 24. He explained to Mr Lyons who he was and asked him for money but the pensioner said he did not have any, Outram told gardai. Mr Lyons then started to hit him with his walking stick and shovel but he had fought back, said the defendant.

Outram maintained throughout his final garda interview that Mr Lyons was not dead when he left his home as he [the deceased] had put on his grey hat and locked the door behind him.

Assistant State Pathologist, Dr Margaret Bolster, said there were ten separate wounds on Mr Lyons’ head and neck which had been caused by blunt force trauma. Some of the lacerations went through the layers of the scalp and extended underneath the membrane covering his skull, she outlined. Mr Lyons' injuries were sustained due to multiple blows with a blunt weapon and possibly a heavy fall, she said. Under cross-examination by Mr O’Higgins, defending, Dr Bolster said it was not an “unreasonable conclusion” that Mr Lyons would have suffered from concussion after sustaining head injuries following the altercation.

Former Northern Ireland State Pathologist, Professor Jack Crane, was called by the defence to give evidence. The consultant pathologist said that it was not possible to infer under the circumstances that Mr Lyons had suffered concussion. Furthermore, the witness said he favoured the possibility that a hip fracture sustained by Mr Lyons’ was the result of a fall rather than blows with a blunt weapon.

“I want to clarify that I didn’t intend to murder or kill him,” Outram had told gardai in interview.